Throughout the history of rock n’ roll there have been “cult” bands, and then there are the Mekons. Never a hit in the U.S. or their native U.K (the band was incepted at The University Of Leeds, where the groups Gang Of Four and Delta 5 were also formed), they are regarded as one of the greatest groups of all time by a small but exuberant group of music nerds (including Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs). My ex-girlfriend was one of them and had “I <3 Mekons” tattooed on her leg. I didn’t know what to make of the records at first (they have put out 18 studio albums since 1979), but after several listens, I was convinced that this genre bending, snidely leftist, often bizarre ensemble had one of the most challenging and quality catalogs in rock n’ roll. The band is hard to explain (a recent documentary attempts just that,) a band that released their first single “Never Been In A Riot” in direct response to The Clash “White Riot,” broke up only to reform a few years later in response to the Miner’s strike in the U.K as an experimental country band, with accordion, fiddle and a salty new singer in Sally Timms (who was married to Fred Armisen for six years.)
Due to the obscurity of this band, who I have seen play a couple of smaller places, I was certainly surprised when I arrived to the Bowery Ballroom to see that the show was sold out, and that the room was so packed I could barely make it in. At 29, I may have been the youngest audience member, something that happens to me a lot, given my taste in music. The 30th anniversary of the aforementioned Miner’s Strike and their return record, 1985’s Fear and Whiskey, they were playing many of the signature tunes of their catalog including “Hard To Be Human” and “Millionaire.” Singer/guitarist Jon Langford, who rarely resists taking the piss out of himself, his band and his audience, described the current ensemble as “The Mekons cover band” playing songs from a long time ago, recorded by a different group of people.
There is a certain kind of humor and unpredictability that makes their live show a real gem. On “Heaven and Back,” there is a move going into the chorus where the band members each execute a high kick at the same time, during which accordionist Rico Bell toppled over onto his back, the band continuing for a few more measures before cracking up and stopping the song. Langford would bring this up many more times throughout the set. Before the encore, bouzouki (a japanese string instrument) player Lu Edmonds (graduate of The Damned, Public Image Ltd. and Billy Bragg and The Blokes, kind of like a cockney Christopher Lloyd) came out to sing “I Lost My Little Yo-Yo,” a song from 1936 that is a suggestive precursor to “My Ding-a-Ling.” It is this kind of behavior that creates a rare comfort onstage, free of auspice, somewhere between a bunch of wisecracking young punks and a shit-talking old country band. They are a veteran band with 36 years of material yet a serious amateurish streak, which may be their greatest hand.
– Jamie Frey